Cultural Life

Afghanistan has a rich cultural heritage covering more than 5,000 years. Because of almost complete isolation from the outside world, however, little in art, literature, or architecture was produced between the 16th and early 20th centuries. Because most Afghans live outside the cities, their mode of living can be described as that of a peasant tribal society. Kinship is the basis of social life and determines the patriarchal character of the community. Religion plays a very important role.

Archaeological research carried out since 1922 has uncovered many fine works of art of the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods. A revival of the traditional arts and an interest in new forms of expression have given a new dynamism to artistic creation. Of the new painters, some draw direct inspiration from the Herat school of the 15th-century Timurid period; others are influenced by Western styles. Through government initiative, some of the old monuments of architectural value are being restored and redecorated. The School of Fine Arts was established in Kabul in the 1930s. In architecture, the traditional Timurid techniques are preserved, particularly in the design of the exterior walls of mosques or tombs. Handicrafts include the world-renowned Afghan carpets and copper utensils.

Theatre as known in the West has flourished only since about 1960. Adaptations of European classics were introduced at first, but the present trend favors the didactic treatment of themes from everyday Afghan life. In addition to city theatres such as those in Kabul, Herat, or Qandahar, there are traveling companies that take plays to provincial centers or country fairs.

In music and dance, a revival of traditional folk singing has gone hand in hand with the imitation of modern Western and Indian music. Afghan music is different from Western music in many ways, particularly in its scales, note intervals, pitch, and rhythm, but it is closer to Western than to Asian music. Afghans celebrate their religious or national feast days, and particularly weddings, by public dancing. The performance of the attan dance in the open air has long been a feature of Afghan life. It is the national dance of the Pashtuns and now of the nation.

The Afghan Historical Society was devoted to disseminating information on Afghan history. It published Aryana, a monthly, in Pashto and Dari. The society also arranged for the publication of research works on Afghan history, manuscripts, and historical sites and monuments. The Pashto Society worked for the development of Pashto literature and for its promotion among the non-Pashto-speaking population. It published the monthly Kabul and arranges for the publication of old Pashto manuscripts as well as of works on Pashto linguistics and literature.

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